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Virginia Bans Unconstitutional Campus ‘Free Speech Zones’

April 7, 2014

RICHMOND, Va., April 7, 2014—On Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill into law effectively designating outdoor areas on the Commonwealth’s public college campuses as public forums, where student speech is subject only to reasonable, content- and viewpoint-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions. Under this new law, college students at Virginia’s public universities will not be limited to expressing themselves in tiny “free speech zones” or subject to unreasonable registration requirements.

HB 258, championed by its lead patron Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly unanimously. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) urged the passage of the bill and testified on behalf of the legislation in hearings in both legislative houses.

“FIRE thanks Governor McAuliffe, Delegate Lingamfelter, and all of Virginia’s delegates and senators for coming together and supporting this legislation,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “One in six public colleges in the United States unjustly restricts student speech with free speech zones. Thanks to this new law, public institutions in Virginia will no longer be among them.”

Restricting student speech to tiny “free speech zones” diminishes the quality of debate and discussion on campus by preventing expression from reaching its target audience. Often, institutions that maintain these restrictive policies also employ burdensome permitting schemes that require students to obtain administrative permission days or even weeks before being allowed to speak their minds. Even worse, many of these policies grant campus administrators unfettered discretion to deny applications based on the viewpoint or content of the speakers’ intended message.

FIRE stands ready to work with Virginia’s public colleges and universities to eliminate any and all such restrictions on free speech in order to achieve compliance with the new law. Administrators may contact Azhar Majeed, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program, for free assistance.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Joe Cohn, Legislative and Policy Director, FIRE: 215-717-3473; joe@thefire.org
Azhar Majeed, Director, Individual Rights Education Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; azhar@thefire.org

Cases: Virginia: Bill Would Eliminate Unconstitutional ‘Free Speech Zones’